A Hypothetical for California Democrats to Consider

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

California governor Jerry Brown has just signed legislation adding California to the National Popular Vote compact, which provides that member states will give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It will take effect only if it comes to include states with a total of at least 270 electoral votes, the minimum necessary to elect a president. Seven other states and the District of Columbia have joined, with 77 electoral votes. Brown’s signature adds California’s 55.

The inspiration behind the compact was the 2000 election, where George W. Bush won 271 electoral votes even though he lost the popular vote to Al Gore. In California, support for the measure came mostly from Democrats, who may have thought that it would help their party. If so, they could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Gallup has just reported that President Obama’s disapproval rating exceeds his approval rating in 29 states, including eight that he carried in 2008. If the election took place today and these states went Republican, the president would still win, but by a narrow 286–252 margin. If he also lost North Carolina (where his approval/disapproval split is dead even at 46/46), he would win 271 electoral votes — exactly the same as Bush in 2000.

So just picture a situation where the electoral-vote split this way even though the GOP nominee was ahead in the national popular vote. Might Democrats suddenly discover constitutional defects in the compact?

The Corner

The one and only.